Conductor: Richard Balcombe
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has a long history since its formation in 1920. This concert is part of the Friday Night Classics series, a series of light music, often from the world of film or theatre. Songs for Swinging Orchestra takes its name and theme from the iconic 1956 Frank Sinatra album, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, orchestrated by that great orchestrator, Nelson Riddle. And several standards made famous by Sinatra are included in the programme, for example, in the medley, ‘Sinatra Film Suite’. However, this evening is really a tribute to Riddle, with around half the songs featuring his peerless orchestrations across his whole career, up to and including the trio of platinum albums with Linda Ronstadt in the 1980s. So we are treated to, for example, ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’, ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’, and ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’.
The CBSO, under conductor Richard Balcombe, performs these, and other orchestrations, beautifully. The sound is mellifluous, the notes seeming to roll off the stage to caress the audience’s ears. Such is the smoothness of the flow, that sometimes it is almost impossible to spot when one note ends and the next begins. Balcombe’s conducting similarly flows, urging the sounds from the orchestra. The few pieces purely for orchestra, including ‘Sinatra Film Suite’, ‘Ambulatory Suite’, the theme from Pal Joey, all fill the space and the audience’s ears like warm honey. Most pieces, however, include vocals form one or both of the evening’s guest vocalists, Catherine Porter and Graham Bickley. Of their solo songs, ‘Nature Boy’, sung by Bickley is a major highlight, sounding other-worldly, his voice becoming ethereal, complementing the lyrics beautifully. Similarly, Porter’s performance of ‘Stuff Like That There’ is really very enjoyable. However, sometimes their voices, even amplified, are difficult to hear above the orchestra. Also, especially before the interval, when they sing together, for example, in ‘Fancy Meeting You Here’, there is a lack of connection between them. Consequently, because some of the songs just miss the mark, the real star of the evening is undoubtedly the large orchestra itself.
For fans of the swing era, and especially the orchestrations of Riddle, the evening is one of nostalgia and pleasure, despite the few shortcomings, boding well for future Friday Night Classics presentations.
Reviewed on: 28th February 2014